Background and context
In this guest blog Polly Wright, an independent consultant, writes about the Clinks-led family engagement programme delivered as part of the 10 Prison Project. It aimed to support prisons to ensure that the role of ‘families and significant others’ was integrated into decision making and development processes, to stabilise the population and support implementation of the wider project.
In 2018, the prisons minister launched the 10 Prisons Project, a 12 month initiative in ten prisons to reduce violence and substance misuse as part of his wider strategy to stabilise the prison estate.
Lord Farmer’s Review in 2017 identified: “Poor family relationships can be a major source of disruption in the estate”. The 2019 Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Strengthening Prisoners Family Ties Policy Framework states effective family work is key “in reducing reoffending, keeping prisoners safe and preventing self-harm and suicide.” It was with this understanding that Clinks was commissioned by HMPPS to deliver a family engagement programme as part of the wider 10 Prison Project.
Starting in February 2019, the programme was delivered over six months, in four of the ten establishments, with the support of on-site Family Engagement workers from voluntary agencies Pact, Lincolnshire Action Trust and Jigsaw and overseen by me as an independent consultant.
The timing of the programme coincided with the publication of the Strengthening Prisoners Family Ties Policy Framework – which requires all establishments to have a Family and Significant Other Strategy in place – as well as the 2019 Ministry of Justice Family and Significant Other Shadow Measurement Tool which ensures that all prisons review and score their family practice on an annual basis.
“The policy framework means that senior management are forced to listen and they are having to embrace it.” - Prison family lead
“This project and the measurement tool has given us the motivation we needed, without it we would have drifted and changes would have been longer in coming.” - Prison Head of Reducing Reoffending
Delivery of the programme
Key to delivering the programme was understanding the current practice, policy and needs within each establishment – highlighting what was working and identifying areas for development. The programme consulted 150 family members, as well as staff from across all functions; explored current safer custody processes and data; collated figures relating to the number of prisoners not received visits and Assisted Prison Visit claims; and reviewed current Family and Significant Other strategies.
Informed by the needs of families, prisoners and staff, the following key priorities were identified and used to develop individualised development plans for each establishment:
- Development of communication between prison and families
- Development of a strategic, multi-departmental approach to Think Family
- Development of initiatives to improve family engagement with prison
- Development of initiatives to support prisoners to maintain family ties
- Development of staff awareness of a Think Family approach.
The priorities were met through a range of interventions and resources including:
- The development and delivery of Think Family training to key staff
- The establishment of cross-departmental Family Strategy groups to inform the sustained and strategic development of a Think Family approach
- Development of family induction booklets to ensure families had access to information about prison life and the services and interventions available
- The engagement of the family provider in key strategic meetings inside the prison to support and encourage partnership working and sharing of expertise
- Creation of additional opportunities for families to engage with the prison, including attendance at resettlement fairs and celebration events and wider promotion of family involvement in Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork reviews
- Development of resources and tools to support key workers to adopt a Think Family approach.
Think Family products
Drawing on the evidence gathered through the programme, as well as the work delivered, Clinks has published four Think Family briefings which provide insight into current family practice within the prison estate, as well as practical guidance about how to develop a Think Family approach. The briefings cover the following four topics:
- Effective communication with families
- Developing a Think Family approach for key workers
- Gateway communication systems
- Strategic development of a Think Family approach.
The briefings are accompanied by resources that were developed by the programme, including the Think Family training course and key worker tools. These can be downloaded and adapted. They are practical resources to support prisons in developing their family work and meeting the requirements of the Family and Significant Other Shadow Measurement Tool.
Reflections and next steps
“Shared practice needs to be a lot more developed across prisons.” - Prison staff member
“Talk to other prisons… come and visit us!” - Prison staff member
Prison staff identified the many benefits of learning from other establishments and sharing ideas, expertise and knowledge. They are keen that the learning and resources from this programme are shared across the estate and that the resources become live documents that can be adapted, reinvented and continually developed to meet the needs of establishments, staff and most importantly prisoners and their families.
This was a short six-month programme of work. It gave us, and the prisons we worked with, an opportunity to better understand the needs of prisoners, families and staff. It provided establishments with the resource to reflect on, and continue the development of, their family practice. The key theme throughout the work, highlighted by staff, prisoners and families alike, was the crucial role of communication. Effective family practice in prisons is about communication between and with all key stakeholders: prison staff, partner agencies, prisoners and families. Communication is not one-directional – it relies on 2-way conversations. Just as prisoners are more likely to communicate their family support needs with prison staff if those staff have communicated their commitment to family practice, equally families are more likely to communicate and engage with prisons if prisons communicate effectively with them.
We hope that the briefings and resources from this project encourage communication and continue the conversation about how we can best support one another to develop and sustain a Think Family approach in our prisons.
Download the briefings and resources
Photo courtesy of Pact